Entries in British Open (123)


SF Examiner: Likeable Watson forced to deal with sting of defeat

By Art Spander
Examiner Columnist

Losing, we have been told, is the great American sin. But was it sinful what Tom Watson did at the British Open? Surely, it was disappointing. The idea in sports is to win.

The reality is that more times than not we lose.

“The taste of defeat,” wrote basketball star and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, “has a richness of experience all its own.”

The memory of J.T. Snow hunched over and staring at his locker after the seventh game of the 2002 World Series forever will remain. Snow and the Giants had that Series won, had a 5-0 lead in Game 6. Yet they didn’t win.

And there was Snow contemplating what could have been, what Giants fans to this day believe should have been.

Tom Watson is very much a part of the Bay Area as the Giants and A’s and the rest of the franchises. He came from Missouri, but was a Stanford man ... still is a Stanford man.

No cheering in the press box is the yardstick to which American journalists must adhere. An event must be approached without bias. In this British Open, however, I cheered silently for Watson.

Not only because of his age, not only because a 59-year-old golfer finishing first in a major championship tournament would have been the sports story of the century, an irresistible tale of persistence and implausibility, but because in this world of fraudulence and dishonesty, Tom Watson is genuine, truthful.

In the winter of 1968 as a Stanford freshman, Watson for the first time competed in the San Francisco Amateur at Harding Park. In the match-play portion he hit an errant shot, into the trees, at the 10th hole I think it was, and after he putted out for what presumably was a par, he said he had moved the ball accidentally at address, thus had a bogey and lost the hole.

No one saw his transgression. The ball had remained virtually in the same place it had been. He received no advantage. But Tom Watson was governed by the rules of golf, as well as his conscience. For him, there was only one way to play the game.

Tom has had his moments, created his legacy. He won five British Opens, two Masters and then at Pebble Beach in 1982 in the U.S. Open. He was involved with Sandy Tatum and Robert Trent Jones II in the creation of Spanish Bay Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula and has taken part in charity events at Stanford.

He can do without our tears, even though symbolically he deserves them.

Watson played so well for so long in the Open, until the last of the 72 holes, and then as the Bay Area, as America, as the world of golf winced, he messed up, dropped into a playoff and lost to Stewart Cink.

“This ain’t a funeral, you know,” Watson told a grim-faced pack of writers in what the Open still calls the “Press Centre.”

No, it was a defeat, supposedly enriching an athlete’s experience.

You looked at Watson as you did Snow back in 2002 and found that concept very hard to understand.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company

Newsday: Watson falters, loses British Open playoff to Cink

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- It could have been the sports story of many a year, the golf story of the century. Tom Watson, who will turn 60 in September, was going to win the British Open. He had a putter in his hand and the tournament in his grasp.

It was wonderful, fantastic. And then like that, it was gone.

Then like that, late Sunday afternoon, Stewart Cink -- mentioned so often as a probable major tournament winner -- was raising his arms in triumph and reaching for the historic silver claret jug on which his name, as is tradition, already had been engraved.

Watson was a shot ahead after 71 holes of the 138th Open, but he bogeyed the 72nd and came apart in a brutally sad four-hole playoff in which he looked like the 59-year-old man he is, getting beaten by six shots.

Cink, playing five groups ahead of Watson, birdied the 18th hole for a 1-under-par 69 and a total of 2-under 278. It didn't seem to mean much until Watson's 8-iron approach to 18 was long. Using the putter, he took three from just off the green, shot 72 and also finished with 278.

Cink went par-par-birdie-birdie in the playoff, Watson bogey-par-double bogey-bogey.

Tied for third at 1-under 279 were two Englishmen -- Lee Westwood, who held the lead before bogeying 15, 16 and 18, and Chris Wood.

"It would have been a hell of a story," said Watson, who had at least part of the lead in all four rounds at Turnberry, where 32 years earlier he won the second of his five Open titles.

Indeed. Not that the 36-year-old Cink didn't like the story that came to be. He grew up watching Watson's World Golf Hall of Fame career, and to face him in a playoff for a major, Cink said, in a bit of awkward prose, "would be beyond even my mind's imagination capabilities."

The presumption was that holding up the last day was beyond Watson's capabilities. He had hip surgery in October. He plays the Champions Tour, where the courses are not as severe. He had not won a major since the 1983 British Open.

But with a hole to play, Watson was a shot ahead and seemed destined to become by 11 years the oldest man ever to win a major. Unfortunately, he hit an 8-iron when he said he should have used a 9, and the ball rolled off the back edge of the 18th green, Watson made a bad putt, then missed an 8-footer for the par and the win.

"Yes," Watson said, "it's a great disappointment. It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take. The playoff was just one bad shot after another and Stewart did what he had to do."

Which was make one good shot after another.

Cink had won other tournaments. He had been on Ryder Cup teams. He just didn't have that finishing touch, a major. He does now.

"How much I needed it, I don't know," Cink said. "I'm not sure I ever thought about whether I was good enough to win a major or not. I knew I'd been close a few times, but I never heard my name tossed in there with the group of best ones not to win.

"So maybe I was starting to believe that, that I wasn't one of the best ones to never win a major."

Watson opened his post-round interview with the admonition, "This ain't a funeral, you know."

It was a golf tournament that gave Watson and others a huge jolt and then, excluding Cink, a massive letdown.

"It was almost," Watson said. "Almost. The dream almost came true."

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Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.
4:14PM Easygoing Cink gives fans fairy tale -- just not one they want

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- It wasn't as if he shot Santa Claus. All Stewart Cink did was shoot under par. That he beat Tom Watson, whose age and reputation made him everybody's favorite, couldn't be held against Cink.

Finally Cink had won a major, the oldest one on the planet, the British Open.

Did it by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation Sunday, and then after the 59-year-old Watson bogeyed the same hole, Cink crushed him in their four-hole playoff.

"It's a surreal experience for me," said Cink. "Not only did I play one of my favorite courses, but playing against Tom Watson. I grew up watching Tom Watson play on TV and hoping I could follow in his footsteps at the Open Championship.

"I feel so happy just to be part of all this."

As he should. As Watson felt so devastated.

After the 36-year-old Cink and Watson tied with 72-hole scores of 2-under 278, Watson, coming unglued, went 4 over par in the four extra holes -- the fifth, sixth, 17th and 18th -- while Cink went 2 under.

A onetime star at Georgia Tech, Cink twice finished third in majors, including the 2001 U.S. Open, when -- despite a reputation for being a great putter -- he missed a short one on the final green that kept him from a playoff. Cink is maybe the best unknown star on the PGA Tour.

He understood the compassion for Watson, a five-time Open winner who by 11 years could have become the oldest champion in a major.

Stewart was the unintended villain, the guy who ruined arguably the best golf story ever.

"Playing against Tom, it was with mixed feelings, because I watched him with such admiration all week," Cink said.

The admiration was universal. Virtually everyone in the boisterous gallery wanted Watson to make history.

"It's not the first time I've been under the radar," said Cink. "I've played a lot of times with Tiger [Woods] and hearing the Tiger roars, and with Mickelson. I'm usually the guy the crowd appreciates, but they're not behind me 100 percent. Maybe this will change it."

Or maybe not. For some, this 138th British Open at Turnberry on the Firth of Clyde will always be the one Watson lost rather than the one Stewart Cink one. The one that might have been.

Cink came in with a 1-under-par 69 Sunday, holing that 15-footer on 18, although at the time, with Watson several holes behind and battling Englishman Lee Westwood, the putt didn't seem that big. As we learned, it would become huge.

An easy-going individual -- and in this world of shouting and waving, that may have kept him in the figurative shadows -- Cink was mentioned by the golfing cognoscenti as one of the game's top players.

He had won other tournaments. He had been on Ryder Cup teams. He just didn't have that finishing touch, a major. He does now.

"How much I needed it, I don't know," Cink allowed. "I'm not sure I ever thought about whether I was good enough to win a major or not. I knew I'd been close a few times, but I never heard my name tossed in there with the group of best ones not to win.

"So maybe I was starting to believe that, that I wasn't one of the best ones to never win a major."

He can stop believing. The way he went through that playoff late on a windy afternoon, going par-par-birdie-birdie, was the stuff of excellence. He talked about Tiger, but Woods rarely has put on so emphatic a performance.

Someone wondered if Cink, who was embraced by his wife and family just off the 18th green, felt he had come in at the end of a syrupy Hollywood film and stolen the girl just before the final scene.

"Well, just as long as I get the girl," said Cink, "I'm OK with that. No, I don't feel that way. I feel like whether Tom was 59 or 29, he was one in the field. I had to play against everybody in the field and, of course, come out on top.

"I don't think anything can be taken away. Somebody may disagree with that, but it's going to be hard to convince me."

Understandably. Cink did what he was supposed to do, win the tournament, although admittedly it was not what many people wanted him to do. The Tom Watson Tale was one that never may come along again.

"I never would have dreamed that I would go up against Tom Watson head-to-head in a playoff for a major championship," Cink said. "That would be beyond even my mind's imagination capabilities."

That's an awkward way of saying that even if the ending wasn't all fuzzy and magical for the world of golf, the story was as good as it gets for Stewart Cink.

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© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.

Newsday: Watson holds on to lead at British Open

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- This can't keep going, can it? Tom Watson can't continue rolling back the years and rolling in the putts, remaining on top of a British Open which may be lacking Tiger Woods but in no way is lacking in subplots, drama and emotion.

For a second straight year, someone out of the past has taken control of the present, making us wonder if anything we know about golf or sports makes sense and whether Watson for one final round is able to keep waking the echoes.

Greg Norman was 53 when he led after 54 holes of the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale and then, not unexpectedly, tumbled under the weight of the pressure, ending up tied for third behind Padraig Harrington.

Now we wait to see what 59-year-old Tom Watson, leading this 138th Open by a shot, is able to accomplish, not that what he's already accomplished at Turnberry so far hasn't been remarkable.

Watson was 27 when he won the Open at Turnberry in '77, the second of his five Open titles, defeating Jack Nicklaus by a stroke. Jack was 10 years older than Tom. Now Watson's closest competitors are in their 20s and 30s.

Of course, as the saying goes, the golf ball doesn't know how old you are.

Watson began the third round Saturday tied for first with Steve Marino at 5 under par. Marino destructed, a 76 with three 6s, one on a par 3. Watson wobbled, but after he dropped into second by a shot, he birdied 16 and 17 to walk off as the leader.

He is at 4-under 206 after a 1-over 71. Mathew Goggin, an Australian who plays the PGA Tour, and Ross Fisher, an Englishman who plays the European Tour - and tied for fifth in last month's U.S. Open at Bethpage - are at 207. Goggin shot 69, Fisher 70.

Tied for fourth at 2-under 208 are Lee Westwood of England and Retief Goosen of South Africa, a two-time U.S. Open winner.

To make things more interesting, Fisher's wife, Jo, is in London expecting the couple's first child, and he has said he would leave the tournament to be at her side if she went into labor. He has a jet standing by at nearby Prestwick.

Watson has two grown children. And, as he said, a sense of serenity. His poignant story involves memories of his longtime caddie Bruce Edwards, who died in April 2004 of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.

"It's kind of emotional out there,'' Watson conceded. "I looked at Ox [his caddie Neil Oxman, a friend and political consultant], after I hit my shot on the green at 18, handed him the club and said, 'Bruce is with us today.' He said, 'Don't make me cry.' So he started crying and I started crying.''

Watson insisted he's not thinking of the magnitude of what has been happening as he tries to become the oldest by 11 years to win a major tournament. Julius Boros was 48 when he took the 1968 PGA Championship.

"First day here,'' Watson said, "yeah, let the old geezer have his day in the sun, a 65. The second day you said, well, that's OK. And then now today, you perk up your ears and say this old geezer might have a chance to win the tournament. It's kind of like Greg Norman last year.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know I feel good about what I did today. I feel good about my game plan. And who knows, it might happen.''

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Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

5:21PM Fisher hopes he, and wife, can hold on for one more day

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Oh, baby.

This is a matter of, well, golf and life, if not necessarily in that order. Ross Fisher is doing what he can to win his country's golfing championship. His wife is doing what she can not to give birth to their first child.

Until her husband plays his final shot Sunday, which of course both hope will be for a victory in the British Open.

This 138th Open lost Tiger Woods after 36 holes, but it doesn't lack for drama or human interest. Or subplots.

Not when 59-year-old Tom Watson has the 54-hole lead. Not when an Englishman, Ross Fisher, is shot behind, tied for second. Not when Jo Fisher is in the maternity ward down in a London hospital.

Not when her husband has said if she goes into labor he will leave the links to join her.

A couple of days ago, the 28-year-old Fisher said if he were notified the baby was coming, he would be going to catch a plane. But now that three rounds are history and he has a chance to make history, Fisher has begun to vacillate.

Asked what he would do if before he teed off for the final 18 holes a text message arrived of the impending birth, Fisher responded, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Then later he said, "If Jo goes into labor, I'll be supporting her 100 percent, and I won't be here. I'll be with her, because it's something that I don't want to miss.

"It's been an intriguing week. ... I've got through three days, and she's got through three days. Who knows? To win and then get back home and see the birth of our first child would be obviously a dream come true."

Watson finished at 4-under-par 206 on Saturday at windblown Turnberry, on Scotland's western coast. Fisher, with an even-par 70, is at 207, as is Australian Mathew Goggin. Another shot back are Lee Westwood, another Englishman, and South Africa's Retief Goosen.

Fisher mostly plays the European Tour, but a month ago he came in fifth in the U.S. Open at Bethpage, the best finish by someone from this side of the Atlantic. The result was uplifting. The challenge is fascinating.

Only five Brits have won the British Open in the past 60 years, the last one Paul Lawrie of Scotland in 1999. The others are Nick Faldo, the Englishman, in 1992, '90 and '87; Sandy Lyle of Scotland in 1985; Tony Jacklin of England in 1969 and Max Faulkner of England in 1951.

Fisher understands what a victory would mean. But it doesn't mean as much as his child.

"No news is good news," he said of the next few hours. "Hopefully she'll be able to hang on another day, and hopefully I can hang on another day."

In his gallery was a man wearing a billed baseball-type hat with a hand-painted message: "Hold on Mrs. Fisher."

Mr. Fisher has figured out the closing holes of this course hard by the Firth of Clyde. He birdied 16-17-18 on Thursday, 16 on Friday and then 16 and 17 on Saturday.

"Not bad," mused Fisher, a classic English understatement.

Then, egged on, he continued.

"I don't know what it is," he said, "but 16 [a 455-yard par-4 with an approach shot over a burn, or stream] I birdied every day. Seventeen [a downwind par-5] is probably one of the easier holes, and if you don't make birdie, you feel like you've slipped a shot."

Fisher said he likes links courses, having competed on them as an amateur, but in his only two British Opens, he missed the cut at Carnoustie in 2007 and finished 39th a year ago at Royal Birkdale.

And his European Tour record this year isn't terribly impressive. In 19 events, he has missed 10 cuts, including six in succession at one stretch.

Yet he is 21st in the world rankings, having won last year's European Open and this year making the semifinals of the Accenture World Match Play in Marana, Ariz.

"I feel quite prepared to play," Fisher said. "I probably haven't got the experience as to the likes of Tom [Watson], you know. He's been playing this golf for quite a few years."

Another understatement. Watson has been playing links golf since before Ross Fisher was born and has won the Open five times, going back to 1975.

Whether Watson or Fisher is a bigger surprise is anyone's guess. One is two months from his 60th birthday. The other is only in his third year as a touring pro.

"Tom is similar to my story," Fisher said. "It's a bit of a Cinderella story. To be playing as well as he is at age 59, I mean, it's incredible. He won here, what, 32 years ago? So I'm sure there will be a lot of followers out there rooting for Tom.

"But I had my fair share today. It was wonderful to hear the reception, up to every tee, up to every green. Hopefully I can play good [Sunday] and it will be for a win. If not, to push Tom and just put in a good performance."

While Jo Fisher waits a few hours longer for her own special performance.

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© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.